Friday, January 06, 2006

Az you like it

Last week's BBC article about a survey of businesspeople responding to accents started people thinking again about prejudices that lurk under the surface of our society towards people who speak in non-standard ways or with a pronounced regional accent.

According to the article, covered by this blog here, strong regional accents suggest a variety of negative impressions from untrustworthiness (Cockney and Scouse) to failure (Brummie and West Midlands).

I followed up my initial interest in this and emailed the Aziz Corporation to find out more about their survey, so here's what the helpful Elspeth sent back - I think it makes interesting reading. Obviously, the Aziz Corporation have a vested interest in making us feel like we're likely to be disregarded if we don't speak RP or softened versions of regional accents (they earn a living by coaching speakers) , but equally that doesn't mean prejudices aren't there. The extra detail provided here adds a bit weight to the media coverage last week:

We are a company that specialises in helping senior executives become stunning communicators (not really a group of James Bond supervillains - honest!) and we regularly undertake surveys about business behaviour. The respondents are senior business people who receive our monthly newsletter, e-communique.

For the purposes of this survey, we used a company called "Survey Monkey" - respondents were asked a simple series of questions that asked them to rate different accents. They were not given the opportunity to add any further comments. I guess what we're trying to say is, that although it's not politically correct to believe that accents matter nowadays, it's apparent from our research that certain prejudices still exist.

When it comes to doing business, the majority of British bosses regard someone with an overseas accent, including American, Continental European and Indian or Asian, as more likely to succeed than someone with an accent from the English regions. Businessmen with Indian or Asian accents are also considered by their peers to be more hardworking and reliable than any of their colleagues from the UK or overseas.

The survey, carried out by the UK’s leading executive communications consultancy The Aziz Corporation, reveals a strong prejudice against regional accents, with 79 per cent of business men and women believing that a strong regional accent is a disadvantage in business. Business people with a Home Counties accent are considered to be generally successful by 77 per cent of those in business, followed by those with an American accent (73 per cent), a Scottish accent (63 per cent), a Continental European accent (52 per cent) or an Indian or Asian accent (25 per cent).

By contrast 64 per cent of business people regard those with a Liverpudlian tone as being generally unsuccessful, closely followed by those with a Birmingham or West Midlands accent (63 per cent), a cockney accent (52 per cent) and Geordie or West Country accents (48 per cent). Businessmen who speak with an Indian or Asian accent are considered to be hardworking and reliable by 69 per cent of their peers, a higher rating than those with any other accent.

Those with accents from America are considered to be diligent by 66 per cent of their peers, followed by those with a Scottish accent (61 per cent) and a Home Counties accent (50 per cent). By contrast, only 24 per cent of executives consider those with a Liverpudlian accent to be hardworking, with just 29 per cent viewing those with either a Welsh or West Country accent to be hardworking.

Khalid Aziz, Chairman of The Aziz Corporation, comments: “Although it may not be politically correct to believe that accents matter nowadays, it is very apparent from our research that popular prejudices still exist. If you want to get ahead in business and don’t speak the Queen’s English, it is better to sound as if you are from America, Europe, India or indeed Scotland than from any English region.

“Accents can speak louder than words. Even if you think like Albert Einstein, the reality is that if you sound like Vera Duckworth you will face prejudices in the business world.”

The research also found that businessmen with certain accents face particularly strong prejudices. 27 per cent believe those with a Liverpudlian accent to be generally dishonest and untrustworthy, while 25 per cent think the same of those with a cockney accent. By contrast those with a Scottish accent are highly regarded, with 63 per cent viewing them as successful, 61 per cent as hardworking and reliable and 63 per cent as honest and trustworthy.

Khalid Aziz comments: “In the light of these results we would advise individuals to consider softening rather than changing broad accents. Experience shows that the key is to avoid using localised vocabulary, which others may not recognise. Sloppy speech can also be a major obstacle to making yourself understood and people of all accents can be guilty of this.”

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